No one will accuse U.S. men’s coach Gregg Berhalter of playing it safe.
Needing a win in Honduras after collecting just two points in the first two World Cup qualifiers, Berhalter gave Ricardo Pepi a start in his first official appearance for the USMNT. The 18-year-old, who was eligible to play for both the USMNT and Mexico, only announced last week that he had chosen to represent the United States.
Pepi is the second-youngest U.S. man to appear in a World Cup qualifier. Christian Pulisic, who is the U.S. captain Wednesday night, was 17 when he appeared in his first World Cup qualifier in March 2016.
Pepi wasn’t the only gamble Berhalter took. George Bello, Mark McKenzie and James Sands all got starts in their World Cup qualifying debuts. McKenzie is the oldest, at 22. Sands is 21 and Bello is 19.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the USMNT went through a complete rebuild. The so-called “golden generation” – 10 of the 26 players on Berhalter’s initial roster are playing on teams in the Champions League – was expected to cruise through qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Instead, they have settled for draws in their first two games, including one at home.